Democrat party 'smart wall' proposal to expand surveillance technology and possibly end government shutdown

; Date: Thu Jan 24 2019

Tags: Big Brother »»»» Trump

We've just started the second month of Trump's government shutdown rooted in his unwarranted demand for a border wall to increase border security. The Democratic party has recently offered a different border security solution, rather than build a wall to build a 'smart wall' that would use technology and drones and stuff. While it's appealing to turn to more technology, this solution means the government will be funding and developing ever-more-powerful surveillance technology.

The issue is that during the 2016 campaign President Trump repeatedly promised to beef up security at the US-Mexico border, and that Mexico would pay for a wall. A very beautiful wall, mind you. When Mexico's President responded saying "in your dreams", President Trump shifted to admitting that Americans would pay for the wall, etc ad nauseum. The rationale for the wall is Trump's fearism claim that Mexicans are all rapists and criminals (false) and that zillions of dangerous folks are coming across the border and committing lots of crimes (again extremely false).

While all of this is a concocted fake news story, there are enough folks buying into this nonsense that it isn't being dismissed outright. During the two years the Republican party controlled both houses of Congress, Trump did not make a serious effort to enact the border wall plan. Instead he chose to grandstand with the funding of the US Government in the winter of 2018-19, forcing a shutdown of the government until he got funding for the wall.

Democratic Party leaders propose a 'smart wall'

After lots of arguing -- essentially President Trump is holding federal government workers hostage to force the Democratic party to go along with his plan -- and refusal by the Democrats to support Trump's plan, the beginning of a possible solution was floated on Jan 23, 2019.

I haven't been able to find a specific proposal. Instead a broad-brushed outline has been spoken by several political leaders.

The specifics I could find from several news articles are below. The broad-brush outline is, instead of a physical wall along the US-Mexico border, the Democrats are proposing the following:

  • Beefing up security at border ports of entry, including more personnel, and more scanning technologies
  • Increasing the number of immigration judges
  • Drones and other scanning technology for use along other stretches of the border

Most of this is very sensible. As has been pointed out, most of the illegal drugs making their way into the USA is not via folks driving or walking through the desert, but by trucks bringing the stuff in via regular ports of entry. Most of the undocumented folks (those some call illegal aliens) are arriving through normal means, like airplanes, then overstaying their visa's.

In other words building a physical wall is ridiculous because it does not address the real problem.

Where I have an issue is that increasing "technology" usage means increasing the capabilities of "surveillance technology". And that means steps towards Big Brother.

An example of an improved technology would be rapid facial recognition capabilities. Already at border ports of entry, customs agents are checking passports, and passport data is integrated into a database of who is traveling when and where. Typically there are cameras involved, such that pictures are captured of the travelers. It makes sense therefore as facial recognition technology is improved, to use that technology at the borders e.g. to check the face used at other times this passport is used.

The problem is that facial image recognition is imperfect and results in false positives. What if they connect this facial image recognition to a database of criminals or terrorists, and then an innocent person who happens to resemble an international terrorist crosses the border? That sort of mistaken identity has in the past resulted in dead people.

The Democratic Party 'smart wall' proposal

( House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. said:

Thompson told reporters that the Democrats' proposal will offer "no new structures. The only thing we’re talking about is existing structures. Some of them need repairing." The money could be used for "technology, manpower, fortifying ports of entry along with the judges and other things," he added.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Wednesday the $5.7 billion in border security technology funding in the offer would be a superior option to the physical wall the president has demanded. "Walls are primitive — what we need to do is have border security," Clyburn told reporters. "Use technology, use scanners, use x-ray equipment,"

( Associated Press

As the government slogged through a record 33rd day of its partial shutdown Wednesday, details of Democrats’ border security plan and its cost remained a work in progress. Party leaders said it would include money for scanning devices and other technological tools for improving security at ports of entry and along the boundary, plus funds for more border agents and immigration judges. “If his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” said No. 3 House Democratic leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

( Washington Post

In the House, Democratic leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning with a new border security proposal that would include improvements such as retrofitting ports of entry, new sensors and drones, more immigration judges and Border Patrol agents, and additional technology, among other measures.

( NY Times

When asked point-blank if Democrats would agree to talk about a wall, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York did not say no but reiterated Democratic talking points about what the party favors: new scanning technology to detect drugs and weapons, improvements in infrastructure at ports of entry and more personnel, including more immigration judges.

About the Author(s)

( David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.